philosophy of SCIENCE  2/7/2021  Essentialism and Traditionalism in Academic Research – CasP – R Kyger, Blair Fix

Essentialism and Traditionalism in Academic Research – CasP – R Kyger, B Fix

Civilization and the culture of science: Science and the shaping of modernity, 1795–1935, by Stephen Gaukroger.  Reviewed by Gabriel Finkelstein

Anti-scientism, technoscience and philosophy of technology: Wittgenstein and Lyotard       by Michael A. Peters    2019

“The truly apocalyptic view of the world is that things do not repeat themselves. It isn’t absurd, e.g., to believe that the age of science and technology is the beginning of the end for humanity; that the idea of great progress is a delusion, along with the idea that the truth will ultimately be known; that there is nothing good or desirable about scientific knowledge and that mankind, in seeking it, is falling into a trap. It is by no means obvious that this is not how things are.”

–Ludwig Wittgenstein (1969), Culture and Value, p. 56e

Jean-Francois Lyotard understood Wittgenstein’s anti-scientism in the context of the Austrian counter-enlightenment tradition which was deeply suspicious of the grand claim that the scientific method is superior to all other means of learning or gaining knowledge. Wittgenstein’s negative cultural outlook was conditioned by Spengler’s (1926) The Decline of the West and a deep pessimism about what science could achieve and what it could not. It could not, for instance, give us moral direction or deal with ethics. Beale and Kidd (2017) suggest that Wittgenstein’s anti-scientism ‘sheds light upon and reveals connections between some of the central areas of his thinking’ (p. 5). Wittgenstein held a negative attitude about the role of science in modern civilization and its overwhelming confidence that it can resolve all problems and that it is only a matter of time before it extends its frontiers to encompass the whole of life. Wittgenstein’s anti-scientism that characterizes his view of modern civilization is the cultural outlook that connects with the broader issues of naturalism and empiricism. As Anna Boncompagni (2018) points out in a review of Beale and Kidd, scientism for Wittgenstein also carries the corollaries:

…science has the right, if not the duty, to extend its dominion into any territory; the scientific method is ‘the’ method of inquiry par excellence; other disciplines, if they are to attain knowledge at all, ought to conform to the scientific method; any domain of human experience can and should be reduced to the natural, empirical domain of science,

Wittgenstein’s anti-scientism conditions those that embrace his work in philosophy of science. While completing a philosophy of science degree in the 1970s at the University of Canterbury I became interested in the Wittgenstein-inspired philosophers of science, in particular, Stephen Toulmin (1958, 1972), Paul Feyerabend (1975), Russell Norwood Hanson (1958) and Thomas Kuhn (1962). Toulmin was a student of Wittgenstein’s (and the physicist Dirac) and had embraced his skepticism of science and anti-rationalism. Toulmin’s Wittgenstein’s Vienna (Janik & Toulmin, 1973), coauthored with Allan Janik, was a strategic text for me that changed forever my view of Wittgenstein as a placeholder in Cambridge philosophy and the analytic tradition.

Feyerabend published several papers on Wittgenstein discussing The Philosophical Investigations (1953). Elizabeth Anscombe had provided Feyerabend with manuscripts of Wittgenstein’s later work which Feyerabend said ‘exercised a profound influence’ upon him. John Preston (2016) notes:

Feyerabend planned to study with Wittgenstein in Cambridge, and Wittgenstein was prepared to take him on as a student, but he died before Feyerabend arrived in England. Karl Popper became his supervisor instead…

Feyerabend became a strong critic of Popper’s critical rationalism and of any rationalist attempt to lay down rules for scientific method. Feyerabend’s (1975) Against Method proposed that science was based on ‘epistemological anarchism’ (‘anything goes’) which was historically more successful and creative than a rule-based system. As Feyerabend argues:

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change … Naive falsificationism takes it for granted that the laws of nature are manifest and not hidden beneath disturbances of considerable magnitude. Empiricism takes it for granted that sense experience is a better mirror of the world than pure thought. Praise of argument takes it for granted that the artifices of Reason give better results than the unchecked play of our emotions. Such assumptions may be perfectly plausible and even true. Still, one should occasionally put them to a test. Putting them to a test means that we stop using the methodology associated with them, start doing science in a different way and see what happens. Case studies such as those reported in the preceding chapters show that such tests occur all the time, and that they speak against the universal validity of any rule. All methodologies have their limitations and the only ‘rule’ that survives is ‘anything goes’.

Kuhn while at the University of California at Berkeley was introduced to the works of Wittgenstein and Feyerabend by Stanley Cavell in the early 1960s and discussed his Structure with Feyerabend. Some scholars have remarked how the recent revival of pragmatism can be understood in the context of Wittgenstein’s anti-foundationalism (Hmiel, 2016). Certainly, this was a feature of Wittgenstein’s thought, along with his anti-representationalism based on a language as use conception. Wittgenstein’s anti-foundationalism also became the basis for social constructivism in sociology developed by the likes of Ernst von Glasersfeld and David Bloor.

When I read Jean-Francois Lyotard’s (1984) The Postmodern Condition entirely by accident the year it was published in English, I was really taken by Lyotard’s use of Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ to analyze the social bond as a series of ‘phrase regimes’ as he put it later in The Differend (Lyotard, 1988). I saw his interpretation as a form of creative appropriation rather than a scholarly reading based on textual analysis. What interested me was Lyotard’s use of Wittgenstein and the French reception more generally. It seemed to me a way out of the straight jacket of conceptual analysis of the so-called ‘London School’ in philosophy of education led by R. S. Peters and Paul Hirst that was allegedly based on ‘the revolution in philosophy’ introduced by Wittgenstein and others. Yet, I found the London School interpretation totally alien and could not understand how Peters and his colleagues could practice philosophy as a form of foundationalist conceptual analysis or ‘hygiene’ based on the search for necessary and sufficient conditions for the use of educational concepts. At the same time I recognize that this conception and interpretation of Wittgenstein by R. S. Peters and others actually provided and encouraged a robust analysis of concepts and a philosophy of education that while attributed to Wittgenstein against the spirit of his philosophy did achieve some significant gains for the field and provided some now classic texts like Ethics and Education that helped to reestablish the field in the late twentieth century.

In 1989, I wrote a paper entitled ‘Techno-science, Rationality and the University’ (Peters, 1989) as a discussion of Lyotard’s (1984) The Postmodern Condition based on an implicit understanding of Wittgenstein as an antifoundationalist thinker. I used the term ‘technoscience’ based on Lyotard’s use without too much thought at the time. It seemed to follow on quite naturally from Heidegger’s inversion of the traditional science/technology dualism and the model of applied science in his attempts to understand Western metaphysics as a form of techne as part of poesis and its use in connection with the concept of epistemology. (Techne is thus considered a kind of knowing from whence we derive ‘know-how’.) Lyotard’s use of the term also seemed to echo the tradition of French historical epistemology championed by Bachelard (1953) who popularized the term that characterized the long-term history of tool use. On this view technology only became combined with a nascent science during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during the European Enlightenment. Both Lyotard (1984) and Bruno Latour (1987) picked up on the term and used it in both a descriptive-analytical sense—the decisive role of technology-led science—and a critical-deconstructive sense to analyze scientific practices.   2021 “Life does not live,” reads the epigram that opens Minima Moralia by Theodor W. Adorno. In the age of its disintegration, in the context of fragmented reality, in which all master narratives have been shaken by an imponderable violence, planetary consciousness encounters existence in its incomprehensible singularity. As fragmented as the world she hopes to experience, cluttered with material and historical debris, philosophy is now faced with totalitarian unanimity, and she now chooses disintegration. To be a fragment among the fragments. A fragment that does not find in the other what interrupts it, but what continues it.

Imagined as a long letter, or as an endless conversation with the Friend, as well as with the Foreigner, philosophy experiences from its very inception the paradoxical condition of being at the same time in the search for a common eccentricity, a remote and unoccupied position, and, together with the other, for an inhabitable planet.